Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – James Cook
Interviewer: Darian Zam
Interview Date: 12 May 2009
Darian Yes sorry, can you please start again? [laughs] It was on hold.
James No problem. Ah, my story ah is probably back to about 1993. Um, in this very building on this very floor in an office which is not too, ah, too far away. And at the time ah working for the Tourist Association, I had no knowledge of any particular apparition or any particular story that, ah, went, ah, with the building, but um, on occasion when you would be working back late, um, ah, I had, oh, I’m sorry on this occasion, working back quite late being the only one here in the office I heard some noises above, which having a second storey on this, on this building, and at that time we had Council’s Marketing division which was, um, headed up so it wasn’t unusual to have had people up above. But, ah, I think on this particular instance there wasn’t.
Darian What do you mean there was a second floor?
James There’s another level above us.
Darian Oh is there?
Darian All right.
James Yes there’s more offices above us.
James Um, heard, yep, heard some, ah, heard some, um, noises above which seemed to sound like footsteps. It was a sort of a, ah, cold evening as such. Something occurred, hair started to raise on the back of neck and I distinctly remember the air becoming cool.
My office, where my desk and, ah, and ah, chair was, allowed me a sight from out of my office through to the glass door that you’ve walked through. And for some moment I looked up, saw what appeared to be a, a lady dressed in colonial style of clothing. It was one of those moments that happened very quickly. It was nearly like within the blink of an eye. She was there and then she was gone. My response was to call out, “Can I help you?” And then of course realising that the building was locked, there was no real way that someone could, ah, could be there. And of course, as I say, Darian this happened in, in, you know, in seconds. It was, you know, that reaction, um, from, you know, hairs tingling on the back of, on the back of neck. Seeing what I, I thought was a woman in white. She, it was, it was very fast. And then of course, the onset of some panic, or, you know, anguish, ah, um, in trepidation, thinking, I believe that it’s time for me to exit the building, ah, whilst I’ve, um, still can.
Darian And how fast did you exit?
James Pretty quickly I can assure you.
Darian But wouldn’t you have had to have gone back out that way?
James No, we used to exit up and around. There are a number of…..
Darian Oh okay. Yep.
James number of fire safety – we used to use the fire stairs which we still use today. So, ah, yeah, I wasn’t thrilled in having to get too close at all to, um…..
James the glass door.
Darian And so she was kind of dressed in white, do you think or.?
James Yeah, well the whole vision was white do you know?
James It was, it was quite, ah, like I say, it was very quick and, but still quite well imprinted in on my mind of, you know. Ah, the mind of course likes to, I suspect, interpret things that it sees you know. It, sees you, and colours and so on. And you know, I couldn’t say that I could see through this woman. But you knew that it was not real, alive, or you know, you knew that it was odd, per se. So, ah, it was it, yeah. So it was, that was how quick it was, like I say, it was within near a blink. So however long between blinks, you know, one to two seconds. It felt like a long time. But, yes, it then felt like a place that you didn’t want to remain in. Ah, so the exit strategy was pretty quick.
Darian And during that blink do you think she was facing towards you or away from you or just went from the side?
James No, yeah, didn’t move, it was stationary because it was there, it was gone. It was looking at me. Sorry I, I had a sense, I have a sense today that it was like you are. It wasn’t standing, sorry, it wasn’t positioned in any other way. It was, in many instances, if it had of been alive just like someone had walked through the door and knew you were there. And it was just….
Darian Yeah, quite surprised perhaps to find you there.
James I’m not sure. You know, one could ah, one could say that, you know, life was a bit – we used to work back a bit. Sorry in the position that I had at that time I used to work back a bit. Um, I had heard noises before. Whether or not that, that was staff still in the building or, or indeed whatever.
James Old buildings creak and groan and whatever things else at night.
Darian New ones do to.
James Correct, correct? So yeah, the, the overall impression of it for me was, um, it was like I had, um, a sense something was, was occurring, but of course it was happening quite rapidly. Um, I, I distinctly remembered it, it kind of quite, it kind of got quite cold like a bit of a chill. You know, like you just got that Oo!
James Which I thought was quite interesting, you know, quite strange and then, you know, hair standing up on the back of the neck. It was like okay. And then, you know, for the momentary glance at this, whatever..
But interestingly, you can kind of interpret that it was dressed in clothing. And I even thought – you’ll love this – I even thought that she was like carrying a basket or she had something.
James So it was, yeah, it was certainly something that you couldn’t definitively say, that she was or she wasn’t. It just like appeared, it was like, you know the thought in your mind would have been, who is this woman standing there holding something?
Darian And before you realised it was gone.
James Well that’s right. You know your mind kinds to, likes to put things together pretty quickly. And you know, how could they get into the building? And you know, am I becoming in danger, you know, in some kind of danger, so on and so forth. There’s lots of stuff going on in a very short period of time. But yeah, that was, um.
Darian Right. And do you, and who do you think it was?
James No idea. And it was interestingly, it was interesting, it wasn’t, it wasn’t until I’d spoken about the experience the next day to, you know, long-standing staff members that they indeed indicated of the…
James …apparition that, um, had or had not been seen previous and so on. And it was like, hm, wish someone had kind of told me, you know, as such.
Darian Well, I mean, I don’t know. It’s had a very chequered history, this building. And you’re probably aware of the fact that it was a burial ground for a very short time in the 1830’s and that the guy well, basically that got two plots in before the Governor General came from Sydney and said you can’t have a cemetery in the middle of the City, move it to Pioneer Park. It was supposed to be far away at the time,
James Yep, well indeed it was.
Darian And Lieutenant Ottway was, ah, never moved, so one person was moved and he was left. And If you’re standing out front of the Council building on the corner of the street,
Darian um, if you look at the left hand side, it’s directly under the Art Gallery there, is where the body is, but obviously he’s a man, not a woman. And this other experience that Eileen had with the psychic, um, I don’t think there was any indication of gender.
Darian Um, but yeah, there was a body there, so there’s that. I mean, it’s been so many things over the years and yeah, so that doesn’t relate.
James Well, it didn’t strike me as male.
James What I thought I saw, I thought I saw an elderly female.
Darian Mm. So yeah, it’s kind of interesting because after that it was, ah, supposed to be a school, but it was actually a police barracks and something else to do with the Council. Then it was a school for a while. And then of course the original Town Hall was built in 1886 along with the annexe and then that’s been remodelled several times over the years, the Civic Theatre in 1927, this current building in 1965.
Darian So you know, there’s been many people coming and going over the years with many many different things and who can say.
James Indeed, it’s like I say, for me it was a very, ah, unusual experience. I’ve never been through that before. I have not been through it since. Um, it was certainly something that I could not explain.
Darian Yeah. And do you think that before that happened that you were interested in the paranormal?
Darian Or, no, you had no, and you didn’t believe in it?
James Um, it’s, I suppose it’s just one of those things that you don’t spend much time thinking of, say in the early ’90s, yeah, no. You were just busy doing the job.
Darian And did you do a lot of thinking about it after that? Like how did you feel about coming back the next day or staying back?
James Yes, I didn’t stay back too often..
James Too soon afterwards. Um, I left in ’94 so..
James It was not, um, you know, I probably did, but it, I probably was, I probably was more comfortable in staying back knowing that there was an opportunity for that to happen again and you wouldn’t necessarily be frightened by it. But I suppose it was, you know, in, in some ways a fright to see what you thought you saw when you didn’t know that, that, knowing something could occur, it’s like oh yeah, it’s the old bird, you know, wherever..
Darian It’s the old bird!
Darian The old chook with the basket!
James And there were times..
Darian Maybe she had eggs in her basket.
James And like I said, I don’t know if it was a basket, but she appeared as though she was carrying something, she was holding something. And I, when the mind was kind of thinking well, period costume, it wouldn’t be a handbag, you know, it wouldn’t be, it would have been something more possibly of that time. And wicker baskets and wherever else may have been, whatever, I don’t know.
Darian So there was a way through that way was there, where there were more offices at the time?
James Um, well, no, there were offices, the layout of the building hasn’t changed, they’ve just modernised it. Ah, there’s a set of stairs that you walk up and over so, to the floor above. It takes you to the, um, um, the exit and then you come down. The South Coast Writers are up there presently, but back in those days Council had its, um, Marketing division that was up there. So Lena and Slater and Charlie Slater were up there and, you know, a couple of others. But they never, you know, there were times when they would be working away at night.
Darian And it didn’t really occur to you that it would be anything other than someone up there just walking around.
James That’s right. Yep. Yep. But you could kind of, you kind of knew, they were, you knew when they were or weren’t here as they used to park the car there, so..
Darian So was there a point on that night when the experience occurred that you quickly realised that the noises you – was there any point when you were hearing the noises upstairs that you kind of started to twig that there was nobody here.
James Yes, yeah. It was probably about 8 o’clock.
James 8pm or so, yeah. And generally..
James …the building was pretty vacant by then as such.
James Lena and Charlie used to predominantly come in earlier as opposed to staying later. I sensed, well, you know, I, I recall that the building was pretty much in darkness, ah, when I exited. There weren’t people up there that I thought had made just, you know, the, the walking noise.
Darian But you didn’t stick around to find out.
James I wasn’t asking questions or anything or looking at anything.
Darian This is, I don’t know how you feel about the way that Mick Winner put it, “You shit yourself and bolted.” [laughs]
James Well, I suppose that was the ah, the ah, the anecdotal, um, the anecdotal um, ah, thing. The next morning when I came in and, you know, regaled the story and it was like, you know, just, yeah. And it was, it was a frightful experience for a short period of time.
Darian Did, did the thing appear to be at floor level, or..?
James Yeah, it appeared as though it was just standing.
Darian Yep, but it seemed quite solid, or you said you can’t really say.
James Yeah. It’s that, that is a blur. I couldn’t say if I could see through it, it was, it was just there. Do you know what I mean, it was hard and it wasn’t there long enough for me to get..
Darian And so after that happened, did you ever hear of anybody else who saw anything strange or heard anything strange in the building?
James Um, only just, I suppose the, the general hearsay of, you know, stories from, from other staff that had been here um, a bit longer would regale me, you know. For example, like Mick Winner’s been here a long time. I think was there, Mick was there back then. So, ah, yeah, it was just Mick, um, just sort of chatting.
Darian Well Mick’s recollection of Eileen, Eileen’s story, the cleaning lady, is that she saw, um a ghost of a few times. So, but that’s not what I heard from Lil who found – actually knew her really well ‘cos Lil worked – you probably know Lil, she worked here for..
James long time.
Darian 20 years or so.
James She’s at the Ribbonwood Centre now isn’t she?
Darian Yes, she’s at the Ribbonwood Centre and she said, and she actually apparently found Eileen’s body when she didn’t turn up for work one day, went to her house and found her dead. But, um, so she’s related to me what that side of the story, from which doesn’t seem to be particularly related to this. But you know, it’s still the thing that ties it together is you know, paranormal occurrences and stories at the Town Hall, so..
James Yep. Well can I say there was something odd that evening. What you would actually call it, um, you know you could only but just put it into the current boxes, of you know, ghost or paranormal activity or wherever, but yeah.
Darian We know so little James , I’m sure in 30 years time we’ll be laughing when we realise what it was really.
Just because I did not turn the tape on properly at the beginning. This is Darian Zam. I’m with James Cook in the tourism building. Ah, it’s the 12th of May 2009 and we’re recording a story of James, it’s a ghost story for the, ah, social history of the Town Hall project. Okay, I think that will do.
Darian That was excellent.
James Good news.